Sunday, August 31, 2008

Take two

In my eagerness to try the latest fruit, I've been tasting apples as soon as I find them at the market or farm stand. But buying at the very start of an apple's growing season might bias the sample towards greener, tarter, and less-ripe fruit. (For this reason I have refrained from reviewing the early McIntoshes I bought this week, though it is exciting to see them for sale at farmers' market.)

I've gone back for a second look at Paula Red, which has been around for more than two weeks, and Red Gravenstein, whose shorter picking season nonetheless spans a week or so.

Paula Red's pleasing flavor hasn't changed a whole lot, but is noticeably more tender and--get this--a little squeaky against the teeth. Still a nice bit of crunch though. Its flesh has gone from white-green to white with yellow highlights. The tan speckles on the skin are perhaps slightly larger, but don't hold me to that.

The later Paula Red was picked thirteen days after the first one. Though mellower, it is less appealing than the early version, to my taste.

Red Gravenstein--similar to, but not the same as plain old Gravenstein--changed even less than Paula Red, though the differences were generally in the same direction--mellower, sweeter, flavors a little less distinct, and in some cases slightly more tender. The flesh was also not as green. The woodiness in the finish I noticed in my first sample was no place to be found, making me wonder if that hadn't just been a fluke. A very nice early apple, which I'm still eating with pleasure.

I tasted more than one of each of these, and within recognizable limits found variation from apple to apple. I found a little vanilla, for instance, in one Red Grav that I had kept in my refrigerator for about a week, but not in any others. This apple was slightly more tender than the others, too, which is not surprising.

One thing I have not tried to account for is the time between picking and eating, which could be the source of more variation than time of harvest. Early apples are not good keepers as a rule so I think most of these were picked close to market day and stored, if at all, under good conditions.


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